The Envoy
  • U.S. hikers to be freed, Iran president says

    Two American hikers held for more than two years in an Iranian jail will be freed in days after paying bail, Iran's president said Tuesday, describing the release as a "humanitarian gesture."

    "They illegally crossed our borders," Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told NBC News' Ann Curry in an exclusive interview. "And they were arrested by the border guards. And all countries have laws for illegal border-crossing. They have very tough laws. We have the same laws here in the country." (You can watch a video of Ahmadinejad discussing the hikers' case in an interview on the NBC "Today Show" below.)

    (AP)

    Joshua Fattal and Shane Bauer (pictured at a pre-trial hearing at right), both 29, were detained by Iranian authorities in July 2009 along with their friend Sarah Shourd while the three University of California/Berkeley graduates were hiking in Kurdish northern Iraq. Shourd, who had been held in solitary confinement for over a year, was freed last September on humanitarian grounds because of health problems. But after many unexplained procedural delays, Fattal and Bauer were convicted last month in an Iranian court on charges of espionage. Each man was sentenced to eight years prison.

    Their families and American officials insist the men are innocent, and have repeatedly implored Iran to free the two on humanitarian grounds.

    The State Department said Tuesday that it is trying to get more details on the reports of Fattal's and Bauer's possibly imminent release.

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  • Insurgents attack US Embassy, NATO HQ in Afghanistan

    (Omar Sabhani/Reuters)Insurgents have carried out coordinated attacks using rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fire on the U.S. Embassy, NATO headquarters and Afghan government offices in downtown Kabul.

    The Taliban have claimed responsibility for the attacks.

    "Police said the gunmen were firing from a tall office building that is under construction at Kabul's Abdul Haq square, which is about 300 yards from the U.S. Embassy," Fox News/AP reported.

    A spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Kabul confirmed that the attack had occurred, but said that no members of the embassy staff were wounded.

    "The U.S. Embassy can confirm an attack has occurred in the area of the U.S. Embassy, including RPG and small arms fire," spokeswoman Kerri Hannan said in an email forwarded to journalists by the State Department. " We can confirm there are no casualties at this time among Embassy personnel."

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  • Obama faces referendum on his Mideast diplomacy

    An elderly man runs past flaming vehicles outside Israel's embassy in Cairo Sept. 9, 2011. (AP)As President Barack Obama prepares to head to the UN General Assembly opening session in New York next week, two of his major foreign policy goals appear to be on a collision course. In the midst of this year's Arab Spring uprisings, the Obama administration has sought to position the United States as a champion for Arab peoples' aspirations for greater democracy and freedom. At the same time, though, the United States has been fully committed to block one key objective supported by most Arab pro-democracy activists: the petition from Palestinian leaders to achieve enhanced international recognition at the United Nations next week.

    Analysts warn that the looming showdown could further diminish the United States' credibility and leverage in the Middle East--and at the very moment that Israel, Washington's closest regional ally, is becoming even more dependent on U.S. diplomatic protection. And in case administration officials needed reminding of the delicate nature of this balancing act, they got a vivid refresher course this past weekend, when Obama and his top aides had to intervene with Egypt's military rulers to help get Israel's ambassador to Cairo and embassy staff evacuated as Egyptian crowds attacked the building. (The assault on Israel's Egypt embassy came just days after another historic Israeli ally in the region, Turkey, expelled Israel's envoy, citing anger over that country's refusal to apologize for the killing of nine Turks in the 2010 Gaza flotilla episode.)

    "I think President Obama is torn," veteran American Middle East peace negotiator Aaron David Miller told The Envoy Monday. He doesn't "want to be the guy who has to oppose a Palestinian state, which is something he is very much in support of."

    But if U.S. representatives are forced to veto a Palestinian state resolution at the UN Security Council next week--as they vowed to do if the measure comes before that body--"you have to wonder how much lower American credibility can get," Miller said.

    Susan Rice, Obama's envoy to the United Nations, made it clear to reporters Monday that Washington is using all the diplomatic incentives and threats it can to try to dissuade Palestinians from going through with their UN plans. (You can see some of her comments on the issue in the YouTube video below.) But as Rice acknowledged at a breakfast with journalists hosted by the Christian Science Monitor Monday, the Palestinian measure is likely to win overwhelming support at the UN General Assembly--despite U.S. opposition.

    "One thing I hope the Palestinian leadership is considering is the day after," Rice warned. "What will happen when whatever show we have in the United Nations is done? What will change in the real world for the Palestinian people? The answer is nothing--sadly. Expectations will have been raised very high. But the economy will still be the economy, the situation on ground will remain the situation on the ground. The [Palestinian people] will not have any more sovereignty, freedom or autonomy than they feel today."

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